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Hockey: Icers debut in Hockey East

Sam Gans | Friday, November 1, 2013

It’s been in the cards since Oct. 11, 2011. And tonight, it will reach fruition.
Notre Dame will play its first ever game in its new conference: Hockey East.
The No. 2 Irish (5-1-0) travel to Vermont for a two-game series tonight and Saturday in their first contests since 2002. The meetings between Notre Dame and the Catamounts (1-1-1) will be just the third and fourth games, respectively, between the programs.
They also mark a new era of Irish hockey, as Notre Dame will open play in a new league after a 21-year run in the now-disbanded CCHA.
“It seems like we’re playing another non-conference series,” Irish coach Jeff Jackson said. “As time goes on, that will change. When you’re accustomed to playing Lake Superior, Bowling Green and Michigan all these years, and then all of a sudden now you’re playing Vermont, it is a little different.”
Irish junior defenseman Robbie Russo noted each league game is more critical this season than in previous years, because there are only 20. Notre Dame played 28 regular season CCHA games a year ago.
Russo said he’s excited to be part of Notre Dame hockey history.
“It’s kind of cool to be a part of the first ever Hockey East game at Notre Dame,” he said. “I think guys will realize that when they’re playing in it [the game] and just noticing it will be a pretty cool experience.”
The Catamounts opened their season with a series at North Dakota on Oct. 11 and 12 in which Vermont lost the first game before earning a tie in the second. The Catamounts did not play again until Saturday, when they defeated Penn State 5-2 in Philadelphia. Vermont senior forward Chris McCarthy, who led the team in goals, assists and points a year ago, fronts the Catamount attack.
Jackson said Vermont’s lack of games has given it more time to practice and prepare earlier in the season.
“Kevin Sneddon’s a good young coach,” Jackson said. “They haven’t had great teams in the last couple of years, but I think that he’s trying to rebuild that. … This early in the season, every [team] thinks [it’s] winning the national championship.”
The Irish will face Vermont without sophomore forward Thomas DiPauli and junior defenseman Eric Johnson, who were both injured in Notre Dame’s split at Minnesota-Duluth last weekend.
Notre Dame will also have the difficulty of facing a Vermont team that’s both playing for the first time at home this season and hosting a celebration of the program’s 50th anniversary this weekend.
“It doesn’t matter who we were going to play, they’re going to be [pumped] up for us. That’s just the way things are going to be all the time,” Jackson said. “I’m sure most buildings are excited to have Notre Dame come in … and they’re going to be looking at where we’re ranked, so you go in with a big target and be prepared to face the opponent’s very best.”
The Irish open Hockey East play tonight in Burlington, Vt., against Vermont at 7:05 p.m. The second game of the series is scheduled for Saturday at 4:30 p.m.
Contact Sam Gans at [email protected]